What Freedom Really Means

Food for Thought

My friend Victoria served this pig for our daughters’ middle school graduation. My smartass kid thought to put the cap on the pig. It embodied the surreal feeling I had all day.

Earlier, the graduation ceremony took place in the auditorium of her middle school in the East Village filled with enthusiastic families. The graduating students sat in rows in front of us with their gowns and caps. In a way, those seats were assigned on the day they were born. They grew up into them, yet they have learned to speak of their fate as their own choice.

So much of our life is predetermined, not in the sense of astrology or palm reading, but of societal expectations. If soccer did not have rules, we would have no idea how to interpret any movements of the players. It’s the rules that give meaning to the existence of the players and their roles. Likewise, we were born into this world to take up the positions our society created for us. They give meaning to our existence and what we do.

Looking at these kids in front of me was a bit surreal; they were willingly going through the motions as if they decided and agreed to be where they are today, when in fact they had no choice in their own names, parents, cities, countries, socioeconomic class, race, gender, language, type of government, laws, educational system, time in history, and so on. Even though they were forced on them, they’ve gradually learned to speak of them as the results of their free will. Parenting and schooling, in this sense, is a global brainwashing effort to produce socially functional players in the game of life, so that they would be happy enough to keep playing it. In this way, we learn to accept our fate as “freedom.” If we can convince ourselves that we chose the conditions forced on us, we can also believe anything to be an act of free will.

But someday, hopefully, these kids will see the game for what it is and consciously choose to play it, or not, and learn what freedom really means.